11 Nuggets from People Smarter Than Me

I get to hang around a lot of smart business people.
Whenever I hear one of these people say something insightful, I write it down.
I’ve amassed a collection of these wise crumbs and leavings.
As a 2022 look back, here are eleven things from my storeroom. I present them to you in no particular order.
·      To write recruitment ads, have an eye-catching title. Then make it about how you’re going to feel about working for the company, and not about the company itself.
·      You can’t implement a plan without having a plan.
·      Relevance and Repetition are the two ingredients for involuntary automatic recall. The formula is Relevance X Repetition = Recall.
·      In radio, reach without repetition is worthless. Always buy repetition first and add reach as you can afford it.
·      Once you’ve got momentum, don’t give up the momentum. If you’re going to add a radio station, add it. Don’t drop one to add another one. So, once you have a station that you’re advertising on, if you ever believed in it, keep believing in it.
·      When presenting new ideas to Sensing Types, present your idea Historically and Incrementally.
·      Are you still and/or have you yet? This question style warrants a response. Getting them to respond to your email increases your email deliverability.
·      Market size has a dramatic effect on the strategy your business uses in the present and near future. Think of market size as a roadmap that you can reference to get to your destination.
·      Every inexperienced marketing consultant wants to point out what the business is doing wrong. It’s glaringly obvious. A wise consultant enters looking for what they’re doing right and then praises them for what they actually do well; and builds an ad campaign on that.
·      When dealing with consumer goods, 80% of your customers are female. Even if the end user is male, it’s the females who find you and point your product to the end user.
·      Three questions that every website needs to answer: Who’s on the site? What do you want them to do? And what do they need to know in order to do that thing that you want them to do?
Thanks for making this year better than it would have been without you.
– Zac Smith, VC

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A Pane in the Glass

“Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.”

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

Ever hear these sayings? How about this one?

“Tell me what you celebrate and I’ll tell you what’s important to you.”

Put all these words of wisdom together and what do you get?

A window into your soul.

What you celebrate and who you celebrate with announces to the world who you are and what’s important to you.

Now, what if I told you that the window is not an ordinary window, but a magic one? 

Well, it is. Each pane of glass has a different power.

The past pane shows you what you used to celebrate and who you used to celebrate with. 

You can gather important insights here. However, a word of caution. This view comes with a disclaimer: past performance does not guarantee future results. Or in other words, for better or worse, there are aspects of our past that can never be recreated.

The present pane is more like a mirror and it’ll show your current state. (Who you are and what’s important to you.)

But what if you’re unhappy with what you see? Then you must change your view, which you can do with the future pane.

The future pane is foggy but editable. Which means you can change who you’re with and what you celebrate until you’re happy with the view. And changes made in the future pane have the power to reach back to the present pane and change who you are. 

Yet, most people never make these changes, even if they’re unhappy with their current view.


Because the future pane is scary.

Past pane is done and over with, even if there are still residual effects. And the present pane is livable. Even if we’re not happy with it, we at least know what we’re looking at and how to deal with it. 

But the future pane? The pane of change is unknown. The view cloudy. And that uncertainty scares us. 

So, what’s the remedy?

Talk to those who were bold enough to make changes to their future window pane. And do you know what they’ll say?

Growing pains are temporary and never as bad as we imagine. And wow. The view from here is fantastic. 

– Zac Smith, VC

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Gag Me Now

I react viscerally to certain advertising tropes.
So, preemptively, I’m going to say sorry now in case I rant too hard. (You’ve been warned and apologized to. No whining if you keep reading.)
One of the worst advertising offenses – and a special focus of my ire – is any version of, “We are locally owned and operated.”
Sweet Jesus, what is wrong with you people? (Not you. I like you. I mean the people who advertise that they’re local.)
Anytime I see it I think, “You used your budget to say that? I mean, of all the things you could have said, that was what you spent your money on? Huh. How’s that working out for you?”
Here’s what’s wrong with it and why I push back so hard.
First, never say what the customer can easily figure out for themselves.
We can all tell you’re locally owned. Don’t worry, we were never going to confuse you with a national chain.
But wait, what if it’s a locally owned franchise of a national chain?
Then shame on you for even trying to claim local. It might be true but you don’t get to say that. You made your bed with corporate; sleep in it. Snuggling in the sheets of “locally owned” is not an option for you.
Second, no one cares.
Why would I spend money to talk about something my audience doesn’t even care about?
Now, there are lots of things said in advertising that the customer doesn’t actually care about. So, why push back on this one?
Because, there’s a sizable group who believe in their hearts that people care about shopping local. But I’m here to tell you it’s not true. At least, not in a way that matters.
The general populace does not care enough about supporting small businesses to shop locally if it in any way is inconvenient.
But what about the people who actually do care about shopping local?
There’s just not enough of them to make a difference.
But people do shop local! You’re telling me that’s not happening?
I’m not saying that. It is happening. They just don’t care that you’re local. If they’re shopping with you, it’s because you’re better, cheaper, more convenient, or all three.
It’s not because you’re local. So, don’t talk about it in your messaging. Instead, talk about the things that actually matter to your customer.
Rant. Over.
– Zac Smith, VC

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I’m Not Having Fun Anymore

Do you know how to spot the tell-tale sign of a relationship destined to fail?

I have a theory.

You can spot it long before resentment sets in. Long before communication breaks down. Long before apathy.

It happens right before the obvious signs of frustration and complaining. It’s subtle.

It’s when someone’s not having fun anymore.  

You’ll see it in their eyes. Aspects of the relationship become boxes needing checked off a to-do list. 

Whereas it used to be steps forward on a grand adventure, now it’s perfunctory. 

You could apply this to personal relationships. But that’s not actually what I had in mind. 

Rather, I was thinking about your relationship with your job.

Are you having fun at work?

If so, awesome! 

And so we’re clear, just because you’re having fun doesn’t mean it’s not challenging work. In fact, those two things often go hand in hand. 

But what if you’re not having fun? Is this the beginning of the end?

It doesn’t have to be unless you want it to be.

If at one point you had a zest for your work you can find it again. 


That’s for you to soul search and figure out.

I was simply checking in.

– Zac Smith, VC 

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Mass Communication Is Second Best

There is no more effective communication than a one-on-one, eye-to-eye, conversation with another human.

Full stop.

Selling something? Your best shot is over lunch, person to person.

Persuade an adversary to your viewpoint? To even have a chance it’ll be face-to-face.

Woo your love? You get the idea.

If this is true, then why would you ever use mass communication channels if they don’t work as well? 

Simple. One-on-one conversations don’t scale. There’s only so much of your time in a day. You can’t increase your time, but you can increase your reach.

This means to make mass communication effective, your best bet is to emulate a personal conversation.

So, what do personal conversations, en masse, look like?

Writing a radio ad? Don’t talk to everyone in radio land. Talk to a single listener.

Print ad? It’s not “to all the readers.” It’s to one reader.

Sending out a newsletter? I’m not talking to the collective subscribers. I’m talking to you. It’s just you and me here and we’re having a delightful conversation. Don’t you think?

So, just to recap, when possible, nothing beats having a one-on-one in-person conversation. That’s when you’re most effective.

But that’s not always possible. Which means the second most effective option is to only “talk” to one person in your mass communications.

That’s all. But hey…by the way, off topic… I just wanted to say thanks for chatting with me. 

Same time next week?

– Zac Smith, VC

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Better Than Average Corporate Speak

Your brand is more valuable than the product or service you sell.

Want proof?

Think of your favorite famous person. (Usually, this is a movie star or athlete, but it doesn’t have to be.)

If they came out with their own t-shirt line, how much more likely are you to buy their clothes than run-of-the-mill Hanes?

What if the same person came out with their own air freshener? How much more likely are you to buy it over Febreze?

What if they came out with a body wash, candle, car edition, or book?

See? When people fall in love with your brand, it doesn’t matter what you sell.

So, what makes a strong brand?

In part, strong brands are defined by what they stand against; as much, if not more, than what they stand for.

So, what do you stand against?

On the surface, you’ll immediately think of good-verses-bad examples. For instance: 

For fairness –> Against injustice

For honesty –> Against dishonesty

For kindness –> Against rudeness

But these kinds of juxtapositions, while superior to average corporate speak, are flat and one dimensional. You can do better than this.

To add intrigue and pull people into your brand, try using some dualities. 

Dualities are two opposite or competing ideas that have equal merit. Here are some examples with movie references:

Freedom vs. Safety (Minority Report)

Progress vs. Preservation (Toy Story 3)

Individuality vs. Community (Snowpiercer)

Privacy vs. Transparency (The 100)

Each of those movie examples could have taken a stand for the opposite quality, and it would have been just as interesting. 

That’s because with dualities there are no wrong answers, only preferences. 

Preferences are the cornerstones of interesting personalities. 

And strong, interesting, brand personalities magnetically draw people to you. Making you their preferred option for whatever it is you sell.

So, what do you stand against?

Choose some dualities, draw some lines in the sand, and your brand will be far better than average corporate speak.

– Zac Smith, VC 

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Better Than Killing Your Darlings

Every writer knows that tight writing comes from ruthless editing.

Every writer knows that tight writing requires ruthless editing.

Every writer knows tight writing requires ruthless editing.

Writers know tight writing requires ruthless editing.

Writers know tight writing requires ruthless edits.

Tight writing requires ruthless edits.

Easier said than done.

Besides the play of word and mark, like above, the hardest edit is killing your darlings.

You know, a clever turn of phrase. An ingenious hook. A nifty piece of creative. 

We fall in love with these darlings. Which makes it painful when, for various reasons, we have to take them out.

It’s a special kind of cold heart that looks your innocent little ideas in the face and smokes ‘em with a keystroke.


Don’t have an icebox in your chest? 

That’s ok. You might not need to kill your darlings after all.

The next time you’ve written an idea that needs to go, don’t scrap it. Save it. Literally. 

Paste all your to-be-dead darlings in a cut file. Here they can happily live with a second lease on life. This does two things. 

One, should you ever find need or home for them, you’ll still have them. Which you wouldn’t have, had you been too quick on the delete key.

Two, you’ll edit even more ruthlessly because you’re not deleting ideas. You’re just rehoming them. 

And with more aggressive edits your writing will be tighter and hit harder.

– Zac Smith, VC

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Doth Your Ears Hearken?

Just before you say or send anything into the world, it never hurts to ask yourself, “Will this pass the 12-year-old test?”

What, oh gentle reader, is the 12-year-old test?

Simply this.

Would the thing I’m about to say, post, text, or email make a 12-year-old boy giggle at an unintended innuendo?

For example, while we all love Winnie the Pooh, giving him his own celebrity style cookbook called, Cooking with Pooh, probably wouldn’t pass the test.

This is especially true when making hashtags or URLs. 

In an effort to promote the release of her album, Susan Boyle landed on the unfortunate hashtag #susanalbumparty

Or, if you run a children’s consignment shop called Kid’s Exchange, scoring the URL with both parts or your name run together could result in some client confusion. 

Sometimes, these humorous mix-ups are intentional to garner attention. If that’s the case, go forth, and may you receive the advertence you desire. 

However, the unintentional ones?

Those I would spare you from.

– Zac Smith, VC 

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Make Your Point

A good ad makes one point and one point only.
For example, if you have great rates, huge selection, and convenient hours; that’s at least three different ads. One ad for each thing. (Not that I would recommend wasting your ad dollars saying those things. These are just illustrative.)
To try and make more than one point in an ad is foolhardy.
Because it’s asking too much from your listener.
As the delightful and talented Chris Maddock likes to say – and I paraphrase – picture a mother of three sitting in her Volvo in the drive through at McDonalds. Her kids are yelling. The baby’s spitting up. Fries are being thrown at the back of her head. And then your ad comes on the radio.
This is not an unrealistic landscape.
Of everything going on in this mom’s world, how many things do you want to add to her mental plate?
One. At most.
So, to keep your ads on track, ask yourself; once I’ve gotten someone’s attention, what one thing do I want them to take away?
And then drive that one thing home.
– Zac Smith, VC

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You’ll Know to Expect It

“The final signing will be on a Friday at noon and the check will be smaller than was agreed upon.” 

That’s what I learned in class this week in, How to Successfully Sell Your Business, taught by Gary Bernier.

If you’re selling your business to a Private Equity firm (PE), there is a predictable sequence of events. 

It starts when they schedule the closing paperwork to be finalized on a Friday afternoon. 

You’ll show up feeling good because you’re about to get the big fat check that everyone agreed to. You’ve got plans for the weekend. The deal is basically done.

Oh, but it’s not.

It’s just getting started. 

At the closing table, they’ll bring a check, filled out and signed, for a lower amount than you were expecting.

They’ll offer an excuse as to why the check is smaller. But you and I know that this is just a play to pay you less.

Will you take the lesser check? Or will you, knowing this was coming, counter? Or walk away?

There isn’t a wrong option. You should pick what’s best for your situation.

And whatever you choose, own it.

Because at least now, you’ll walk into that room knowing what to expect.

– Zac Smith, VC

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Be the Most Interesting Person in the Room

Step one, read a lot. (Or watch a lot of random YouTube videos.)

The goal is to learn a little bit about a lot of different topics. Not so that you can show off your knowledge, but so that you can ask good questions. 

Which means you just have to know enough to be entry level on a given subject.

Step two, when you’re talking with someone, after the obligatory small talk, find out what they’re interested in. 

One question you can ask to find this out is: If you could have a whole weekend unencumbered to research something, what would it be?

Step three, be curious.

This is where you start asking questions about the topic they’re interested in. If you don’t know what kind of question to ask, a good place to start is to ask: If I was just starting out learning about this subject, where would be a good place to begin?

Step four, genuinely listen.

Eye contact is usually ideal. You can also throw in a head nod here and there for good measure. And an assenting “hmmm…” never hurts either.

Once you’re done talking, thank them for the nice conversation and comment on how much you learned. 

Repeat steps one through four for the next person you talk to.

Soon you will be the talk of the party. People will comment on what an interesting person you are and how you were the best conversation they had all night.

– Zac Smith, VC

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You’ve Lived More than You Know

You have done and had more interesting experiences than you know.

No, I’m not saying your experiences were more interesting than you’ve given them credit for. 

What I’m saying is you don’t remember having them.

Memory, as it turns out, is terrifyingly fragile.

“The vast majority of the things that are happening to me in my life — the conscious experience I’m having right now — I’m most likely not going to remember when I’m 80.” – Michael Anderson, memory researcher at the University of Cambridge.

Not only do we not remember everything, our memories can also be altered. 

“Memories aren’t static. If you remember something in the context of a new environment and time, or if you are even in a different mood, your memories might integrate the new information.”  – Donna Bridge, postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“When you think back to an event that happened to you long ago – say your first day at school – you actually may be recalling information you retrieved about that event at some later time, not the original event.” – Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Northwestern in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

So, what are we to do? What bulwark exists against our memory altering and erasing minds?


The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory.

But you already knew that. 

In fact, you probably already have a journal somewhere. A book of sporadic entries; oft begun but seldom continued. 

Well, this is your evocation to pick it up again.  

Commit the tidbits of your life to paper. And remember, you’re not writing for anyone else but you. So, don’t worry about style, quality, or formatting. Just write. 

Write about chocolate dipped ice cream in the park; the joy of Autumn colors; the copper penny in the parking lot you didn’t pick up, and how eight-year-old you wouldn’t believe it; the first wear hole in your favorite grey hoodie; the dining room chair that rocks because one leg lost its felt pad; the little yellow flowers growing from the cracked concrete; the rainbow you saw driving to work; and how you were two states away when grandma passed before you could make it home to say goodbye.

Write about big and small matters. Write odd thoughts and disjointed beliefs. And write like your life depends on it. 

Because it does. 

Your brain is erasing your life. 

And once gone, your journal is the only place you’ve lived.

– Zac Smith, VC

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